CWRU should have maintained the COVID-19 dashboard

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Writer

Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Case Western Reserve University developed a COVID-19 dashboard. It provided students with valuable information about COVID-19 on campus, including vaccination rates, the number of people in quarantine and isolation as well as the number of positive cases each week. While it was not without its flaws, the COVID-19 dashboard provided the CWRU community with insight into how great of a risk COVID-19 posed. Since CWRU updated the dashboard every Tuesday, the information was always no more than a week old, which made it a reasonably accurate way for students to evaluate how concerned they should be about COVID-19 when making everyday choices.

In March 2022, CWRU ended the mask mandate in most settings and the testing requirements for most students living on campus. The university further relaxed COVID-19 guidelines for fall 2022, with no further restrictions imposed on gatherings. As CWRU noted in an email to students in August 2022, the campus vaccination rate is high, reducing the risk presented by COVID-19. With that being said, this does not change the fact that breakthrough cases do occur, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, remain mindful of the risks of COVID-19 in their community.
The COVID-19 dashboard provided the type of information individuals could use to assess community risk and make decisions about where they felt comfortable going and if they should wear a mask. With looser guidelines, it is now up to CWRU community members to decide if they want to wear a mask in most settings. While it is true that there are other resources that students can use to gauge the risk of COVID-19, such as online reports about COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County, the dashboard provided a view of COVID-19 very specific to the university community and was helpful for gauging the risk of contracting the virus on campus.

CWRU community members may still choose to wear a mask—and they certainly should not feel pressured to do otherwise—but ensuring everyone has reasonable access to the information they need is vital to good decision-making. In most situations, people have the right not to wear a mask but also the responsibility to decide whether or not they should wear one. Members of the CWRU community should be supported in responsible decision-making by having access to the information they need.

The dashboard also showed a commitment to transparency about the state of COVID-19 on campus. Seeing low case levels the previous academic year confirmed to the community that the coronavirus was well-managed on campus. While we can reasonably infer that COVID-19 levels will be low this semester—given the student vaccination rate and the fact that students were supposed to test themselves shortly before or right after returning to campus—providing data would help build confidence in the university’s COVID-19 management. 

Furthermore, providing the CWRU community with pandemic information could prevent a surge in cases. While it is true that CWRU has indicated that masking rules will be revised if needed, if we see that cases are rising before reaching the point for a necessary mask mandate, the campus community might take steps to modify its behavior and reduce positive cases by itself. This won’t happen  if we don’t have this information.

The pandemic remains a reality for the CWRU community. People are still contracting COVID-19 and while it is unlikely to be severe or lethal for most vaccinated people, it is a fact that people infected with COVID-19 will have to deal with the consequences of isolation regardless of their symptoms. Having COVID-19 keeps them out of class and from going about everyday life, and for some in the community—especially those with certain medical conditions—illness can be severe regardless of their vaccination status. Providing information about COVID-19 rates on campus acknowledges that it’s still a problem, shows a commitment to honesty and transparency and aids campus community members in making good decisions about COVID-19. The COVID-19 dashboard is a resource that would still be relevant and useful today.